Region's Homicide Total Steady For 2007
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
The number of homicides in the Washington area remained about the same last year, with reductions in nearly every jurisdiction in Northern Virginia offsetting increases in the District and Prince George's County.
Through early New Year's Eve, counties in Northern Virginia reported 33 slayings in 2007, down from 48 in 2006. Prince George's recorded 144 killings, up from 136, and the District had 181, up from 169. In Washington's other Maryland suburbs, the number of homicides remained relatively steady or fell.
Although robberies and thefts from vehicles were a growing problem in some jurisdictions last year, homicides continued to be a dominant concern in Prince George's. The county's homicide rate soared during the first few months of the year. The peak came in March, when the county had 11 homicides in as many days.
The killings prompted Police Chief Melvin C. High to form a special investigative task force and to ask for assistance from federal and state law enforcement officials. The county temporarily closed nine nightspots that officials said were magnets for violent crime. Killings slowed during the rest of the year.
Prince George's detectives closed about 52 percent of the year's homicide cases, down from 62 percent last year. Maj. Daniel Dusseau, head of the department's criminal investigation division, attributed the decline in the closure rate to the killings in March, which overwhelmed the department's 30 homicide investigators.
"That was really frustrating for us because we couldn't say that this was a result of some sort of sort of rolling battle," Dusseau said. "It was more a series of things that were unrelated."
No county homicide drew as much attention as a shooting by Keith A. Washington, a Prince George's police corporal and former county homeland security official, at his home in Accokeek. Washington is charged with second-degree murder in the Jan. 24 shooting of two unarmed furniture deliverymen, one of whom died. Washington, who was off duty at the time, has said he acted in self-defense.
Homicides declined in Prince William more sharply than anywhere else in the region. Only one of the nine slayings last year remains an open case.
Most of the county's homicides involved domestic matters, including a triple slaying in a Woodbridge home Dec. 9. Authorities allege that Anastacio Sanchez-Miranda intended to kill the mother of his children but instead shot her sister, her brother-in-law and another man who lived in the house. Sanchez-Miranda is charged with three counts of first-degree murder.
Montgomery County had 21 homicides in 2007, and arrests have been made in all but four of those cases. The majority were domestic; police say eight of the victims were killed by their parents.
"You look at each case, and mental illness jumps out at you," Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger said of homicides involving people accused of killing relatives. "It wasn't for greed; it was all emotional problems, mental illness issues."
The heaviest toll came on Thanksgiving, when, according to police, David P. Brockdorff, an electrician, shot his ex-wife and their three children at Unity Neighborhood Park in Damascus and then killed himself. In April, Gerardo Roque, a farm worker, hanged his two children and then himself in upper Montgomery, police say.
In other categories of crime, Montgomery and Arlington County were among a handful of jurisdictions to struggle last year with thefts, particularly from vehicles.
Alexandria police spokeswoman Ashley Hildebrandt said a particular problem in that city this year was car break-ins in which thieves stole Global Positioning Systems, iPods, laptops and other electronic equipment.
Preliminary data from Montgomery show that 5,585 thefts from cars were reported last year, up from 5,044 in 2006. "I'm very concerned about it," Manger said. "It has gone up dramatically."
Crime had risen gradually in recent years in Montgomery, but the overall crime rate leveled off last year, Manger said. However, street robberies committed by three or more people -- called "pack robberies" -- continued to rise, according to preliminary figures. Roughly 380 such robberies were reported last year, up from 330 in 2006.
Officials in Anne Arundel County also identified theft and robbery as emerging concerns. "You would definitely attribute it to the overall growth of the county," said Cpl. Mark Shawkey, a county police spokesman.
Fairfax County's overall crime rate has steadily declined in recent years, dropping in 2006 to its lowest point in 30 years. But the county reported 572 robberies in 2006, an increase of 18 percent over the previous year. That trend continued in 2007, with 581 robberies reported by mid-December.
In the District, gun crime increased last year, with armed robberies up 24 percent and shootings and other violent gun crimes up 7 percent from last year, according to preliminary crime data. Property crime rose by 4 percent, with the biggest jumps in arson and theft, the data showed.
In Charles County, Southern Maryland's largest jurisdiction, officials said they face pressure from an influx of newcomers who came to the county to escape crime in Prince George's or elsewhere. "I think they're less tolerant of it, and I think they should be," said Maj. Joseph C. Montminy, an assistant sheriff in Charles.
Although many of those newcomers have expressed concern, the number of slayings in the county was down last year, and Montminy said statistics show no significant increase in the number of robberies.
Staff writers William Brubaker, Daniela Deane, Tom Jackman, Allison Klein, Raymond McCaffrey, Dan Morse, Candace Rondeaux and Theresa Vargas contributed to this report.